Ashly James wants to see more women in government, so she is starting with herself.
The soon-to-be Pine Tree High School senior was one of two Texas girls selected from more than 600 to represent the state at Girls Nation in Washington, D.C., on July 20-27.
Girls Nation is sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary and gives high school girls a chance to hold mock Senate sessions, campaign for elected office, elect a Girls Nation president and vice president and work together to pass legislation.
James said she was chosen after Girls State, where she was elected a senator for Girls Nation. She and the other Texas senator already have drafted a bill to help reform the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “I know that it’s really more of an honor at this stage. It’s less learning about government and more about getting experience. I’m going to get to meet my representative, Louie Gohmert, face-to-face so that will be really cool.”
Debate and leadership are not new talents for James. She has been a member of the speech and debate team for years, competing in Lincoln-Douglas and congressional debate. She also is a member of the swim team, National Honor Society president, started a mock trial team and is in the math honor society, Mu Alpha Theta.
Cindy Martin, Pine Tree High School counselor who retired after the 2018-19 school year, said that to her knowledge, James is the first Pine Tree student to make it to Girls Nation.
“I was incredibly proud of her and so happy for her,” Martin said. “She is very intelligent and tenacious and works very hard to accomplish whatever goals she sets or whatever task is before her.”
Martin said James has the personality to do well in Girls Nation.
“She’s also very personable and does not meet a stranger, and so I wasn’t totally surprised,” she said. “I just expect her to do great things; this is just the beginning for her.”
James said her variety of school activities, and Girls State, increased her passion for getting more women involved in leadership and government.
“It can be hard for women to enter the workforce, especially when it comes to government,” she said. “I think for young women to grow up with that and have government taught to them and know they have the option to go into that to pursue that as a career is really important to me.”
That starts in the classroom, she said. While students are required to take government to graduate, James said she thinks more time should be spent on the subject.
“I think we could take more time in class to go over how has the political climate changed over time and how is it still changing now. Do women face discrimination, or is there still under-representation?” James said. “I think taking time to discuss that would be really eye-opening.”
As far as the political climate changing is concerned, James is growing up in a time in which women candidates are being elected and it’s not unusual for them to run for president.
“It’s definitely empowering,” she said. “Seeing that, it’s really eye-opening. It really does, I feel like, open up the possibilities for me whenever I grow up, seeing that that is possible in the world. It really gives me hope that one day, whenever I’m older and when my peers and other girls are older, that we can make a change.”